No-no contest

20 years ago, baseball was besieged by no-hitters

April 30, 2010
In 1990, Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan threw his sixth of seven career no-hitters. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Click here to view video footage of Nolan Ryan's sixth career no-hitter.

Baseball fans like labels.

1968 was the Year of the Pitcher. 1961 was dubbed the Year of the Home Run. A book even labeled 1930 as the Year of the Batter.

So if one trend must define a season, 1990 was the Year of the no-hitter.

When the dust settled 20 years ago, a record-setting nine no-hit games had been thrown. Later rule revisions lowered the number to seven, which is still matched just once in modern baseball history – amazingly, the following season.

Of course, the 1990 season had other notable moments. Rickey Henderson won the AL MVP. Fellow future Hall of Famer George Brett became the only player to win a batting title in three decades. Closer Bobby Thigpen topped 50 saves – the first in history – and set the single-season record at 57.

But the rash of no-hitters became the dominant story of the first year of the new decade. And when the story of 1990 is told at the Baseball Hall of Fame, the exploits of the men on the mound becomes the dominant theme.

Officially, a no-hit game occurs when a pitcher (or pitchers) allows no hits during the entire course of a game – which consists of at least nine innings – that his team wins. But the Year of the No-hitter wasn’t just notable for the nine no-no’s, but also for the close calls. Twenty-two games took place in 1990 in which one team was held to a single hit or less – and the year started off at a rapid pace.

By the third day of the season, the first no-hitter was already in the books. Angels Mark Langston and Mike Witt combined to blank Seattle on April 12. Their manager, Doug Rader, said afterward he wouldn’t have removed Langston under normal circumstances, but he didn’t want to risk injury after the brief spring.

“If (Langston) would have been adamant about staying in the game, I think it would have allowed it,” Radar said. “This one had less drama because it was with two guys. But still, it was a 1-0 ball game and the game was on the line with every batter.”

Witt, who threw a perfect game on Sept. 30, 1984, walked to the mound in the eighth to a chorus of hometown boos. But he won over the crowd, working two quick innings and retiring Ken Griffey Jr. to end the game. The Griffey strikeout set in motion a whirlwind season.

Andy Hawkins, future 300-game winner Randy Johnson, Terry Mulholland, Melido Perez, Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, Dave Stieb, Dave Stewart and Fernando Valenzuela all joined Witt and Langston on the no-hitter list for 1990. Hawkins’ and Perez’s accomplishments eventually fell victim to the rule changes (Hawkins lost his game 4-0 on errors, Perez’s game was shortened to six innings by rain) and are no longer offical no-hitters.

Each of 1990’s no-hitters is represented in Cooperstown. Caps from Hawkins, Johnson, Perez, Ryan, Steib and Stewart all made their way to the Hall of Fame. Mulholland and Ryan donated their jerseys and Steib and Stewart both gave up their spikes. Balls from each no-hitter adorn the Hall’s No-Hitter Exhibit. The display is located on the Museum’s third floor and has a special section dedicated to Ryan, the all-time no-hitter record holder with seven.

And more items are on the way. A ball from Ubaldo Jimenez’s April 17 no-hitter will soon be on display at the Hall of Fame, honoring the Colorado Rockies right-hander’s gem against the Atlanta Braves. Balls from every big league no-hitter dating back to 1940 are on exhibit at the Museum.

Trevor Hayes is the editorial production manager for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum